It is estimated that more than 15 million babies are born prematurely each year. A large percentage of these babies will develop chronic lung disease, a dangerous condition which makes it much harder to breathe.
A group of researchers from the Hudson Institute and Monash University have just finished testing a placental stem cell treatment which could cure this condition, known as bronchopulmonary dysplasia. The trial was led by Dr Atul Malhotra in collaboration with Professor Euan Wallace, and Associate Professor Rebecca Lim.
The research team injected healthy placental stem cells into neonates with chronic lung disease with the goal of assessing the safety of the procedure. They are hoping to develop a treatment that will repair the damage caused by the disease and prevent the disease from occurring in the first place.
Dr Malhotra explained the process: “We believe these placental stem cells help ‘kick start’ the baby’s own immune system to ’empower’ them to prevent or fight this debilitating condition,” he continued, “Given this was the first time any baby had ever received this therapy, assessing the long-term safety over the first 2 years of life was vital for this research to progress to the next step.”
The project followed the first five babies to receive the treatment for two years. During this time, researchers tracked each participant’s growth, respiratory health, cardiac health, neurodevelopmental outcomes, and various other metrics.
The researchers did not see any adverse events associated with the stem cell treatment. This was a very positive outcome as assessing the procedure’s safety was their primary concern.
Now that they know the trial is safe, further trials will focus on the effectiveness of the treatment. A dose-escalation study is already underway, with results being released in the near future.
This research is the first step towards finding a cure for this deadly disease. If a treatment is successfully developed, it could help millions of newborn babies each year.